THE SEASON TO CELEBRATE

THE SEASON TO CELEBRATE

It’s that time again, and I don’t like it.  I don’t like the cooler temperatures, I don’t like the shorter days, and I don’t like the thought of cold weather returning.  Call me crazy, but I am in my element when the mercury is in the triple digits. 

I have tried for over fifty years now, but it does no good to be upset about it.  Fall still comes, and behind it, winter.  I try a little harder every year to embrace it, and I think perhaps, I may be just a bit more successful each year.

I am sitting on my porch at 8:40 p.m., feeling the cool breeze.  It is 69 degrees, and I cannot deny that it feels nice.  But with the cool evenings and mornings come the cooler days.  We have had temperatures in the forties this week, and rain for four days straight, no sun.

The backyard pool must come down, and this breaks my heart. 

However, I am seeking out the other joys that arrive only as summer begins to depart.  Like the sunflowers.  For about two glorious weeks at the end of August/beginning of September in Kansas, our state flower is in full bloom in the wild.

This year, my husband planted some in our yard, so we have our own personal blooms to savor. 

I cannot deny that I immensely enjoy this part of late summer.  When it becomes obvious that summer will soon wind down, the state flower steps it up and shows off its unparalleled beauty to remind me that nature’s splendor remains in other ways.  I simply needed to take another look.

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Not that sunflowers aren’t beautiful and grand, but Gail and Suzanne have other, more exciting reasons to celebrate. 

Gail was together with her four children and her two grandchildren two weeks ago.  Her second-born lives in Michigan, and their visits are not frequent enough.  Her grandsons live there with their mother, so these visits are an incredible highlight for all of them.

But Gail, as you already know, can make a celebration out of pretty much nothing.  I don’t think there is such a thing as a bad day or a wasted day in her life.  She chooses to let the bad roll off her back, and focus on the good.

I want to be like her when I grow up.

Both Gail and I have been married for twenty-plus years, and have lived in our homes that long as well.  Both our husbands and our homes are nothing new, but they are tried-and-true, and we are still very much smitten with both.  There are no big celebrations planned at this time, but there is no need for any.  Every day is a gift to be savored.

Suzanne has quite the opposite news.  She is getting both a new house, and a new husband.  This is super-exciting news not just for her, but for Gail and me as well.  Her husband-to-be got a 127% approval rate from both of her sisters, and while Gail has not yet seen her new house, I gave it five stars.  My husband the builder gave it five stars as well when he checked it out for her.  (This never happens.)  Guys aren’t much into approval rates, but I know he finds his future brother-in-law at least as favorable as the house. 

In the interest of her limited self-disclosure, that is really all I can tell you, and that’s enough for you to know she has a lot to celebrate right now.

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If you recall, one of our mother’s many nuggets of wisdom she shared with us was this:  Always have something to look forward to.

In this year of COVID, our excursions have been greatly limited.  Last weekend, however, my husband and I ventured out to western Kansas to see some of our Sunflower State’s natural beauty that we had not yet taken in.

Topped off by an overnight stay at Gail’s house—along with patio sitting, we had a lot to look forward to last week, and none of it disappointed.

This week, I am anticipating a long-overdue trip with a dear friend.  No details at this point, but suffice it to say that even though our backyard pool came down already, my time splashing in the sun is not done yet for this year. 

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Two years ago this fall, I featured a group of six sisters we know who take annual sister trips—all six of them, which makes us look like amateurs, which we are.  This week, they have been celebrating in Michigan, very close to where Gail’s daughter lives.

May their annual celebrations continue to inspire us, and hopefully you, too.  They set the bar high for making it all work, but when family and fun are priorities, they show us that the sky is the limit. 

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I am sitting on the porch again, this time I am savoring the sunshine and 80-degree temperatures.  The weather is simply splendid, even if it lacks perfection by 20 degrees in my book.  The humidity, however, is a breathable 44%, and I cannot deny I do love that part. 

I am working harder than ever to savor every beautiful day of the fall, even if I know that means the cold will be here soon.  I am working on savoring the cold days, too.  Life is too short and too beautiful not to at least try. 

Kansas has four beautiful seasons, and each one is distinct in its gifts.  The hardest gift for me to accept—no matter which season—is the blessed/cursed Kansas wind.  Gail and Suzanne call it blessed, I call it cursed.

Suzanne’s new house is tucked away on an almost-secret street in our small city, surrounded by trees.  I don’t think she realized until I pointed it out to her that she would not have full benefit of the wind.  This may have been a small downer for her, but the wind, along with all the other simple things to celebrate, are always able to be found somewhere.

Sometimes, we just have to look a little bit, and sometimes, we have to look at them differently in order to call them celebrations. 

But they are always there.

HOME Swheat HOME

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HOME SWHEAT HOME

Yesterday for lunch, I enjoyed a turkey sandwich. For dinner—or supper, as we call it on the farm, I had a juicy burger in a soft bun. I savored a sliver of single crust raisin cream pie for dessert.

Last week, our family had take-home pizza, and we enjoyed every bite. I made a cake for dessert, and today, we plan to partake of a loaf of whole-wheat take-and-bake bread.

All these goodies are made possible courtesy of wheat, the staple crop of Kansas.

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Yesterday, after I enjoyed that turkey sandwich, I took off for my annual trip to the harvest field. My brothers had an afternoon of cutting left; harvest took place this year in between the rains. I was worried they would finish before the weekend, but there were a few hours of harvest left for me to enjoy. I haven’t missed a harvest since 1990. It is the high point of the year on the farm, the time of year that brings back my fondest farm-girl memories.

Along with our four brothers, Gail, Suzanne and I grew up on this farm in north-central Kansas. It is now a fourth-generation Kansas family farm, and this heritage gives me untold pride. Two of our four brothers continue to demonstrate stellar stewardship of our family legacy, and I cannot express in words how grateful I am to them for that. Our nephews show promise to maintain this legacy in the future, and this sense of family attachment to our parcel of the Kansas earth is something that will continue to give me a secure sense of home.

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The house we grew up in–the house that built us, was over 100 years old when we lived there. It housed us all for many years, but it was time for it to come down. It’s spirit lives on, and one of our brothers lives on with his family in a new house built just up the driveway from where it stood. A garden now occupies that spot, a fitting tribute to the plot of land that grew our family.

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At the crest of the hill that slopes down on one’s final mile to our farm, the panoramic view is one that never fails to warm me. It was already 90-plus degrees, but I welcome this kind of warmth, no matter what the temperature is.

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Much of our family’s land lies “over west” from our farm, the term we have always used to refer to the farm ground several miles west of our farm. Today, however, the remaining wheat was within view of the farm; I don’t remember a trip where I was able to enjoy the proximity of the farm for my afternoon in the harvest field.   The two combines worked across the road from each other, and the two semi-trucks were kept busy being filled and refilled.

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I hopped into my brother’s combine when I arrived; his son ran the other combine across the road. This time in the cab is the best view of the action, as the reels comb the wheat into the header to begin the process of separating the wheat from the chaff.

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The tractor-driven grain cart allows the combine to continue cutting without stopping to drive to the semi.  The tractor pulls up alongside the combine, moving forward along with the combine as it simultaneously dumps a load and continues to fill the bin.

A local farmer once told our dad the story of his city-slicker relative who came to the farm for harvest, and, upon observing this sight, commented:

“It’s amazing how that reel pulls the combine through the wheat.”

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Amazing indeed if that were how it worked, but it’s more complicated than that. Life is usually never as easy at it looks to the unaware eye, and this situation is no different. In the end, though, the wheat is separated from the chaff, carried to the bin and awaits its turn to be dumped into the truck.

Some of the wheat is stored on the farm in a bin as seed wheat for next year’s crop,

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Business decisions between the farmers are made at all phases of the harvest.

and the rest is transported to the elevator down the road.

The other half of my harvest agenda is a trip in the big rig to the elevator.

The truck is first weighed and the driver identifies the account,

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Then the wheat is dumped from the truck into the pit.

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The hopper is wide open to dump the wheat down into the pit

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Where it awaits its vertical trip up into the elevator and is eventually hauled away by train.

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The elevator hand closes the hopper, and we’re off for another weigh-in to determine the amount of grain deposited.

And then we head back to the field to do it all over again multiple times. Except this year, there was only one more load remaining. My brother informed the elevator hand he would be back only one more time; their harvest work is almost done this year for my brother, and for most area farmers.

This year, unlike any other year I can remember, I got to savor the sweet smell of fresh-cut alfalfa, as the farmer they hire to swath this beautiful and fragrant livestock feed did his rounds in the field next to the wheat field we were in.

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My brothers don’t own a swather; it is one of the few jobs they hire out.

Our younger brother took a panoramic video of our farm from atop the grain bin:

 

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Knowing that my family—and that grilled burger will be waiting for me for supper, I head out after the elevator trip. Not, however, before I make a cruise through our small hometown.

The long hill to town marks the ascent out of the beautiful valley our farm inhabits.

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At the top of the hill, four miles away, our hometown pops into view.

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The warm memories of my youth flood back as I see the school we all graduated from,

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The church we all grew up in,

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And our parents’ final resting place.

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Our childhood home may no longer stand, but this community—the community that built us—still stands. Despite the demise of much of Small Town America, Tipton, Kansas has continued to survive and thrive as the even-smaller-than-it-was-when-we-grew-up-there dot on the map, but as a community, its members know the importance of keeping it alive.

I will forever be grateful for our beginnings in this town, and to its current members for sustaining its legacy with hard work and pride.

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Even though I grew up on a farm, I am helpless to drive a combine or truck. For the most part, our four brothers helped Dad, and the girls helped Mom. I can, however, still make a mean cherry pie and fry up a big chicken dinner on command.

Gail, however, was the Swiss Army Knife who could do it all because she had to. She could probably even figure out how to haul wheat in that big rig if she had to; she learned how to drive a smaller grain truck that is mostly phased out of most modern farm operations. She doesn’t have a CDL that would allow her to legally drive it, but in a pinch, Gail’s resourcefulness would surface. I wouldn’t get near that driver’s seat, but Suzanne reports she did drive a short distance on a dirt road with a lot of assistance from our brother in the passenger seat.

The high-tech combines of today may confound Gail, but I know she handled the older ones with ease.  Both Suzanne and I attempted a quick spin in the combine several summers ago, but again with assistance right next to us in the cab.  Another one of our brothers dutifully and gladly takes a harvest leave every summer from his gig as an airline captain to pilot that behemoth machine, which is much appreciated by our farmer brothers. While he has an autopilot in the cockpit, the combine requires hands-on attention at all times.

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Some of the big cottonwoods still stand on the farm,

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And the woods behind the house where we explored, hiked, built forts and sometimes hid out still stand.

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Our farm-girl heritage still stands within each of us. We still know the value of hard work, we aren’t afraid to answer the call in nature if we have to—our house had one bathroom for nine people, and we know where our bread comes from–and the work involved in bringing it to us.

I have to wrap up and enjoy my Sunday dinner. My Mark-of-all-trades husband cooked up a steak lunch for us—dinner, as it is called on the farm—complete with a loaf of take-and-bake bread.

I know where it came from.

Swheat.

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THE BEAUTY OF JUNE

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THE BEAUTY OF JUNE

“I wonder what it would be like to live in a world where it was always June.”                L.M. Montgomery

Second only to July in my book, June is one of the most splendid months of the year.

My mind and heart hearken back to my childhood, where June meant the beginning of the three carefree months of no school, hot weather, picking cherries, swimming lessons, Father’s Day and the beginning of wheat harvest. The cherry-picking and swimming lessons weren’t always good memories then, but they are now. I love to swim, and I am so glad our parents took the time and effort to make sure we knew how. I was scared of the water when I first started, but not anymore.

I hated to pick cherries then, but I love it now. I remember Mom waking us up early to beat the heat with our cherry-picking. We climbed our two cherry trees with a small bucket, and didn’t get down until it was full. This was followed by an afternoon of pitting cherries at the kitchen sink. It was torture then; I love it now. My husband planted a cherry tree for me in our backyard several years ago, but the frost got the blooms this spring, so there will be no cherries this year.   I did just find a bag in the freezer from last year, so that will still make a good pie.

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LAST YEAR’S CHERRY HARVEST

Today, June 21st, 2020, is Father’s Day. My family gathered at our in-laws to celebrate the fathers in the family. Good food, drink and company were enjoyed by all, as we always do when we gather there. Father’s Day has become a sweet-bitter observation, instead of the mostly bitter day that I felt for the first handful of years after our dad was gone.

To anyone who has recently lost their father, who feels only the bitter, my heart breaks for you. But, I want to let you know that time heals, and in the coming years, Father’s Day will be sweet-bitter for you, too.

I promise.

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LAST YEAR’S WHEAT HARVEST

I remember celebrating most Father’s Days of my youth in the harvest fields. Dad and my brothers would be hard at work cutting and hauling wheat. This year, harvest has not yet started on our farm, nor is there much harvesting happening where I live, 80 miles south of there. The wheat harvest begins first in the south and moves north as the climate dictates.

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30 miles south of my home, a farmer is moving his combine to the field to cut. Note the red machine, vs. the green. My International-Harvester farm-girl heart will always favor the red ones.   I don’t mind getting stuck behind slow-moving farm machinery, because they feed me, too.

Today, however, the climate here is one of unrest, as we wait for severe thunderstorms to roll in, further delaying the onset of harvest.

Aside from the fly in the ointment that storms cause for harvest-hungry farmers, these storms are another thing I like about June.

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Garage sales and lemonade stands are another sure sign of summer.

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Last night was the summer solstice. The annual “longest day of the year.” The sun shone longer in the sky than any other day, and I always observe this peak day. The days will slowly, almost imperceptibly become shorter day by day until the winter solstice occurs on December 21st. I crave sunlight, and welcome each lengthening day until the summer solstice, and now, knowing that the days will get shorter, I will again welcome the longer days starting in December.

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We were at our brother’s house near our family farm for the last year’s winter solstice. Here, the sun is setting on the shortest day of the year.

July will arrive in nine days. So will our annual guests. I will eagerly welcome both, and we will celebrate the first week of July together.

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July, with it’s honor of being the hottest month of the year in Kansas, as well as a week with some of my favorite friends, Independence Day—my second favorite holiday, and perhaps a family vacation, is my favorite month of the year. My three favorite things about Kansas are July, June and August—in that order.

Because I was born in mid-April, I came into being in July. Perhaps this is why I love July so much. Independence Day, with its fireworks, food, family and freedom, should be savored year-round, keeping its spirit alive in our hearts all year, just as we should with Christmas.

Independence–to me, means letting go of those things that hold us back and limit our happiness. With or without fireworks, it means freedom. None of us who enjoy this liberty should ever take it for granted.

As I anticipate another Fourth of July, I am delighting in decorating my home in a patriotic theme. I started on Flag Day—another great thing about June that occurs on the 14th. Today—Father’s Day, I am holding the memory of our dad close to my heart. I am also celebrating the father who made me a mother, and doing all I can to savor the beauty in every day, no matter how many minutes of sunshine it offers me.

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Our dad enjoying a lunch break in the harvest field.

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Last night’s fiery sunset was a fitting exit for our brightest star, shining longer than any other day of the year.

Happy summer solstice, happy summer, happy Father’s Day, and Happy June to you.

It’s a beauty of a month.

10,000 STEPS

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10,000 STEPS

“The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.” Lao Tzu

“Sometimes we make the process more complicated than we need to. We will never make a journey of a thousand miles by fretting about how long it will take or how hard it will be. We make the journey by taking each day step by step and then repeating it again and again until we reach our destination.”                   —Joseph B. Wirthlin

“Step with care and great tact, and remember that Life’s a Great Balancing Act.” —Dr. Seuss

“Every breath we take, every step we make, can be filled with peace, joy and serenity.”             —Thich Nhat Hanh

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I remember watching Gail with great fascination when she got a Fitbit® several years ago. She was so excited about measuring her steps. She is always on the go, so it made sense that she would want to know just how many steps she took in a day. I also recall a dear woman, a wife of a dear home health patient, explaining her Fitbit®, too. She is a mover and shaker as well, so she, too, wanted to know how many steps she was taking every day.

I got a fitness tracker for Christmas. I never thought I would want one, but I did. I figured with my daily run, I was getting enough steps in. But something kept telling me to give it a shot. So, I did.  I didn’t need the fanciest one, just one to measure my steps. I was curious to see how many I took in an average day.

The set-up process required someone who knew more about gizmos like this than I did (my 19-year old son), and a goal. A number of daily steps to aspire to that would be entered into the device.   I thought 10,000 sounded like a good number, so I started there.

The first day I wore it, I exceeded the goal by a long shot. I completed 20,000-plus steps. However, that was not an ordinary day.

That day, like yesterday, I took a hike. Literally. That day, I hiked the nearby beautiful Konza Prairie Trail with my best hiking buddy.

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It is listed as one of the 8 Geographic Wonders of Kansas (www.kansassampler.org), and if you haven’t been there, put it on your list.

Yesterday, I hiked it with my husband and two sons. We’d been talking about doing it forever, and yesterday was the day. My firstborn just completed his degree at nearby Kansas State University in December, and we always said we would do it while he was there.

But we didn’t, and it was time.

It was abundantly sunny but windy, with a high of 49 degrees.  By Kansas standards in February, it was a nice day. So, we took advantage.

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It is a Kansas masterpiece; truly a wonder of nature. It is breathtaking in all seasons, and I have featured it in other posts as well.

So, please, go take a hike.

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After the trail, we checked out Pillsbury Crossing, another wonder of Kansas nature that was close to Manhattan.  Our son had been there several times, it is a beautiful water fall with a reputation among the college students as a fun nature hangout.

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It was a great day on our feet.

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Ten thousand steps sounds daunting, and if I didn’t take my daily run, I wouldn’t normally reach my goal. I am usually around 6,000 steps when I get back, so I’ve got a great head start early in the morning. Most days I reach my goal, some days I come close. I think there have been a few days when I didn’t even reach 9,000 steps. And there were two days when I was in bed sick, so those don’t count.

Two nights ago, I needed just 127 more steps to reach 10,000, and I was ready to go to bed. Not one to let a goal that close slip from my grasp, I went to the basement a few times; there was always something in the laundry room I could tend to. A few laps around the house, and I felt that gratifying double vibration on my wrist: I made it. Then, I went to bed.

The night before that, in the cold-but-calm February evening under an almost-full moon, I pushed myself out the door to walk the driveway a few times. The moon made it light enough to see, and made it worth the effort.

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I am a mature, educated, reasonable and logical woman who doesn’t normally fall for cheesy rewards or flaky reinforcement. That little pulsation on my wrist, however, makes me go the extra few steps, makes me push myself a little harder.

Yet, I continue to circle the parking lot, looking for a closer space.  Circling, even as I composed this blog in my mind as I often do throughout the week, I kept looking for a closer space.  I fully realize this incongruity.

I’m the only one who knows or cares about these 10,000 steps. Clearly, I am like most other humans in this respect: we all like to be rewarded for our efforts, even if it is just a little buzz on my wrist. Yesterday, just as we embarked on the trail, I got that little buzz. And I hadn’t even started hiking yet. I knew my tally for yesterday would be stellar, and it was. It was second only to the other time I hiked the same trail.

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This morning, I woke after a good night’s sleep, ready to get back out there and get more steps. I commenced my run before the wind picked up, and, at 31 degrees, it was beautiful. It felt so good, in fact, that I went the extra mile—literally. My legs felt strong and lithe after the hike yesterday, so I kept going. I felt like Forrest Gump. When I got home, I had over 7,500 steps, and it was just after 9:00 a.m.

I sent up a little thank you for this wondrous ability to move my legs, to take thousands of steps every day.

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I have been seeing an amazing woman for home health speech therapy for several months. She had a massive stroke last summer, and survived against all odds. She is wheelchair-bound, but keeps pushing forward, keeps giving it 127%, and keeps smiling.  Her faith and fortitude match that of her family, and she is not just strong, she is herculean.   I don’t think she realizes that she inspires all of us.

She is one year younger than me.

She has an amazing physical therapy team, and several weeks ago, I arrived at the tail end of her physical therapy session. She was elated, because with the physical support from her walker and her therapist, she walked across her kitchen. It was, perhaps ten steps. Not ten thousand, but ten. And, for her, this was an amazing victory, likely feeling like ten thousand steps. I felt so honored to be there right after it happened, to be an almost-witness to this victory.  She inspires the inspired.

I thought about my daily goals. Ten thousand steps. Every day, I am physically able to take those ten thousand steps and many more. I don’t think about each step like she does, I simply do it, as I have done all my life. I don’t count them, my tracker does that for me. After seeing her joy with just ten—or perhaps a few more—steps, I felt guilty for not savoring every step, for not being over-the-moon grateful for every single one of them.

I find myself taking this ability for granted. You would think, that after 25 years in this field, after seeing hundreds of people lose this ability, that I wouldn’t take it for granted. Yet, I still do.

Shame on me.

Instead of shame, however, I will offer more gratitude for this wondrous ability, this ability to move my body wherever I want to take it. Roughly half of the geography of the human body is dedicated to movement via our legs and hips, which reflects the importance of simply walking. Running, hiking and anything beyond walking are yet additional gifts.

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I have featured my Arizona friends in a few previous blogs.   Yesterday, Tana, age 47, completed 53,273 steps in her first—and last, she says today—marathon.

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She crossed the finish line with her friends, with incredible pain in her legs, but she finished.  (far left.)

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She began training only last year at age 46, and required cortisone injections in both knees to keep going.   Yet, she kept going. She, too,  inspires the inspired.

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Our mom was a walker, too. I remember her frequently taking off for walks on our country roads, setting a good example for all of us.

I called Suzanne one evening last week, and she and a friend were just returning from a walk.

Gail called me one evening last week while she was out walking, as she gets out and gets her steps in several times a week. She was a bit breathless, but she kept moving her legs as we talked. She made a comment about the moon, knowing I like to watch the moon, too. In her usual humorous style, she posted this after her walk:

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She might not be getting as many steps in lately, because she is having too much fun in her new ride:

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To treat herself for her upcoming 60th birthday, she brought this gem home, purchasing it from a local woman who could no longer drive. “Lola” is a 1974 Chevrolet Nova. Lola wasn’t a showgirl, as the Barry Manilow song may suggest, but Gail said she is now. In her usual humorous style, Gail is having the time of her life with Lola, cruising and carousing about town.

Gail and I had a Sunday morning phone conversation a bit ago. She expressed how excited she is about her upcoming birthday, and the celebrations sure to unfold. She understands that age and ability are gifts not to be taken for granted, and she is celebrating them. I checked with her to make sure, but I already knew the answer: she would love to hear from you to add to her birthday joy on or before February 21st:

Gail Britt

810 South 6th St

Atwood, KS 67730

If you’ve read much of my blog, she probably feels like your big sister, too.

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Take a walk, take a hike, or take a run. If you are able to, simply move your legs, and be sure to be grateful for the ability to do so. Our beautiful state of Kansas has so much outdoor glory to offer, so whenever possible, get out there and enjoy it. If you don’t live in Kansas, I’m sure your state—or country—has natural beauty to enjoy as well.

Sometimes, the hardest part of moving your body is just getting started. Start small. Walk around the block or to the mailbox. Once you get started, it’s easier to keep going. Action begets action. Walking begets walking. Hiking and running beget hiking and running, too.

That journey of however many steps begins with a single step.

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“My grandmother started walking five miles a day when she was sixty. She’s ninety-seven now, and we don’t know where the hell she is. — Ellen Degeneres

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If you live in, or plan to visit Kansas, please get yourself a copy of this guidebook from the Kansas Sampler Foundation  (www.kansassampler.org.)  It features all the wonder and beauty of outdoor Kansas, as well as indoor sights, historic locations, one-of-a-kind stores, restaurants and manmade wonders from every town in the state.  It makes a great gift, I gave Suzanne one for Christmas, and Gail just might get one in her birthday package, too.

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Penner, Marci and Rowe, WenDee.  The Kansas Guidebook 2 for Explorers.  2017,  Newton, Kansas, Mennonite Press.

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SISTERS OF THE SOUTH WIND

 

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SISTERS OF THE SOUTH WIND

I have made it abundantly clear that I love my sisters. We are harmonious toward each other, even in the face of potential differences of opinion about politics, religion, genetic cloning perhaps, even public nudity, if it were to become an issue. I consider them my best friends, and they are my first line of defense when I need a go-to friend to help me get through a crisis, solve a problem, or someone to cry to. However, there is one issue, one topic that I stand diametrically opposed to Gail and Suzanne on, and I cannot go to them with this problem, because it is not a problem for them.  They simply don’t understand. In fact, they feel just the opposite.  If there is a scar on the face of our otherwise beautiful sisterly triad, it is this: Gail and Suzanne love the wind, and I loathe it.

Further, I know I am the sensible one here, and they are the insane ones. I mean, really. What kind of person loves the wind?

In my post Weather Girls (January 28th, 2018), I wrote about just how much they really do love the wind. And, if you know either of them very well, you will likely know this fact about them. And, hopefully, you side with me and realize they are indeed crazy.

Gail loves it so much, that she has thought about changing her name to Gail Force Winds.

But enough about this fundamental difference between them and me. Let’s get down to the business of making peace with this stumbling block. That’s what we are all about, after all. I’m trying to create optimism and positivity here.

Clearly, I know wind is a fact of nature that cannot be eliminated or altered. It cannot be escaped in Kansas. As a matter of true fact, our state’s name is from the Native Americans, and it means People of the South Wind.

I know in my heart, mind and soul that no amount of lamenting or complaining about the wind will change it. As a general policy in my life, I try very hard not to complain about things I cannot change, and if I can change something, I try not to complain about it. Yet, I continue to complain.  Gail and Suzanne remind me that nothing I say or do will change it, so why not embrace it? I have tried, but to no avail—yet.

This morning—November 17th, I awoke to a beautiful, calm, 40-degree sunny morning. The flag was beautifully still,

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The pampas grass wasn’t moving,

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and neither were the remaining leaves on the trees.

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I enjoyed a morning run, but by the time I returned, all this had changed. The northwest wind was blowing, the trees and the flag were moving and the pampas grass was swaying. It was tolerable, but it was there. It is generally a fact of life in Kansas.

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Today, we are The People of the Northwest Wind.

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Wind is generally a fact of life, no matter where you go, even to Colorful Colorado, where we just visited two weeks ago.

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It seems, however, that Kansas has more than its share. I don’t mind the wind in the summer. I rather enjoy the feeling of a blast furnace when the strong winds blow in the 100-degree plus summer heat. Call me crazy. Go ahead, I know you want to. I’ll take that weather any day over the cold.

do like the wind for several reasons, at the right time, at the right speeds.  First, it keeps the bugs away in the summer.  Second, I rely upon it to dry my laundry on my back-porch redneck clothesline, all year round.  Here it is, doing its job today, as well on the front porch.  If you look under the flag in the picture above, you will see the wind at work.

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I like the cold when the wind isn’t blowing. Give me a sunny, calm, sub-freezing day, and I’m happy. My favorite running weather is just that: 20°, sunshine and zero wind. Throw in some snow on the ground, and it’s perfect.

Again, call me crazy.

As soon as the wind kicks in, however, all bets are off. It’s a complete deal-breaker. If the skies are gray too, I find myself wanting to hole up in my basement where I am oblivious to the weather conditions outside.

Because, I realize, the weather conditions outside play a big role in determining my weather conditions inside. I am solar-powered, and without the sun for an extended stretch, I feel gray, too.

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We grew up in a 100-year old+ farmhouse. Gail and I shared an upstairs bedroom on the north, and Suzanne moved in with me when Gail moved out. I remember the cold north wind freezing us out; the house wasn’t exactly insulated well. I remember the wind whistling and howling in the winter as we shivered in bed.   The house came down a few years ago, but I will never forget it. Most of the memories were good ones, and I will be forever grateful for the shelter it provided.

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Our north bedroom window was the large one upstairs.

My bedroom now is upstairs on the north side of the house. When the north wind howls in the winter now, I send up a silent thank you for the warm and well-insulated home I now live in. At least once every winter, I try to tell my Mark-of-all-trades husband thank you for building it so well to keep us warm.

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Last Monday was Veteran’s Day. As I age, I continue to deepen my gratitude for the freedoms that were won for me, and protected still by active military.   I know that none of us can ever repay the veterans for their sacrifices, so a deep sense of gratitude is the least they deserve from us.

The temperature was about 20° Monday morning, and the feels like index, according to the weatherman, was 2°.  The north wind was brutal and blowing a light snow, and it simply wasn’t safe or smart to be out in it if it wasn’t necessary.

I depend on my morning run to start my day, and to keep me running all day. Quite simply, if I don’t run, I don’t run. If I wanted to get any exercise in that day, it would have to be on the dreaded elliptical trainer in my basement. So, that’s what I did. I realized as I ticked off the minutes, however, that it was fitting that I had to sacrifice just a little freedom on this sacred day. Still, I didn’t like it one bit.

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As fall continues to fall, and so do the temperatures, I feel the annual sense of dread and doom, the specter of internal darkness that begins to hover over and around me when I know that winter will soon be here. The days continue to get shorter—only 34 days until they get longer again, but who’s counting—and this darkness tries to pervade my sense of happiness.

I know the cold winter is almost here, and from all professional prognostications I have heard, it’s going to be a bad one. And by bad, for Kansas that usually means lots of snow, icy conditions, colder temperatures and strong north winds.  I could make it through with a smile if not for the blasting north winds.

This autumn, however, I have made a conscious effort to savor the beautiful weather and splendid show of color Mother Nature provides every year at this time. It’s working a little better that usual. But it’s not enough to fend off the winter-is-coming blues.

I have committed myself to Kansas, and it is my home. It is in my heart and soul; it is the land that shaped my past and will continue to positively influence my future. If I had to name my least favorite aspect of Kansas, it would be the wind. It is the fly in the ointment, the pock mark on an otherwise beautiful face.

So, dear reader, here is my request: Surely many (most?) of you feel the way I do about the wind. If you do, and you have some positive insight/affirmation/encouragement, I want to hear it. I want to know how you get through the cold, windy days and nights. I want to remain smitten with Kansas, and if I can make peace with the wind, I would be a much happier camper when the cold winter winds blow.

We’re all in this together, and I am hoping you can help me. The struggle is real, folks. I need help, and I am reaching out to anyone who may have some to offer. Gail and Suzanne, as dear as they are to me, are useless in this fight, because they don’t see it as a fight. Again, I think they are a little crazy, but I try to respect their likes and dislikes.

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My husband spent many years constructing buildings in every kind of weather. While he did his time in hard labor, and now manages projects instead of building them, he feels the same way I do about the wind.   He knows his sisters-in-law love the wind, and more than once after a day in the wind, he would cuss them to me. I always understood. It would go something like this:

I’d like to see them take a sheet of metal and try to get it up on a roof in this wind without sailing away, or getting their hands sliced open when the wind tears it out of their hands.”

My neighbor stopped by this morning, and, without me complaining first, she said, “I can’t stand the wind. It’s depressing.”  Obviously, I concur.

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I often go to senior living facilities to see my home health patients. I noticed a pattern several years ago, one that serves to offer me wisdom, should I choose to accept it.

In many facilities, there are outdoor patios. Many of these patios are adorned with wind chimes. It struck me, one windy winter day, while looking up at three stories of apartments with their patios/balconies, that so many of the residents had wind chimes hanging outside. Could it be, that in their wisdom from their years of (likely) living in Kansas, that they are choosing to celebrate the wind, rather than bemoaning it, like I do? Could it be that simply accepting this fact, and maybe even celebrating it with things like wind chimes would offer me much-needed inner peace on cold, windy days? Perhaps. And that is why I am asking for your help, because clearly, I am not achieving it on my own.

I will continue to find peace in so many other naturally beautiful aspects of Kansas, especially the sunrises and sunsets.

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Next weekend, I am gallivanting off for more fun, this time with friends, so there will be no post. I am celebrating a birthday for a dear friend, along with another dear friend. Like me, the birthday girl is in and out of her car all day as part of her work. Like me, she loathes the wind. Any advice you have for me will also be a birthday gift for her.

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She gave me this beautiful piece of outdoor art with the sun face on it several years ago for my birthday, and last spring, I caught it capturing the brilliant light of the sun as it rose.

Hanging just above it are my own wind chimes. This morning and this afternoon,, they are silent, hanging on the east side of the porch.  Next time they  offer me beautiful music. I will choose to listen.

The lines are open for your comments. I appreciate any an all advice and inspiration you have to offer on how you cope with the wind, no matter what state you live in.

Thank you.

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I believe when we lose a loved one, they remain with us in so many other ways, but we have to be open to them. This morning, I sat down to write this post, knowing I was writing about the weather. I decided to first read the day book that belonged to my mother, a book I gave her that she loved, highlighting her favorite parts. Some days, she highlighted the title, which I interpret to mean that she liked the whole thing.   Many days, she speaks to me, telling me exactly what I need to hear through the highlighted parts. This morning, she did just that. *

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*Sarah Ban Breathnach, 1995, Simple Abundance:  A Daybook of Comfort and Joy.  Warner Books, New York, New York.  

THE SIMPLE KANSAS SUNFLOWER

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THE SIMPLE KANSAS SUNFLOWER

According to popular, but erroneous national sentiment, Kansas doesn’t have much to offer.  “Fly-over country,” we’ve been called.  As if there’s nothing to see here.

We—the sisters of The Sister Lode—are here to tell you differently.  Kansas is our born-and-raised home state, and we aren’t backing down on our stand that there’s plenty to see here. 

But this is not a post about Kansas tourism.  That would require a blog of its own.   This is a post about one simple thing–Kansas’s state flower:   the sunflower.

Our mom liked sunflowers.  And, like the topics of so many other good memories of both Mom and Dad, the sunflower has been elevated in status for all three of us.  It’s timeless beauty, and classic, iconic face have made it a favorite for so many people–not just Kansans, and not just us.

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They are still in bloom right now—although nearing the end of their annual fashion show, so now is a perfect time to extol their virtues.

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 “Weeds are nature’s graffiti.”   J.L.W. Brooks

The sunflowers gracing the fields and ditches at this time of year are primarily a weed.  They are very common across the United Sates—except for the Southeastern U.S.–and parts of central Canada. They grow well in soils of dry to medium moisture, as well as sand and clay.

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I don’t care that they are classified as weeds.  As A.A. Milne, the author of Winnie the Pooh states, “Weeds are flowers, once you get to know them.”

While there are sunflowers planted as crops,

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this blog is not about them.  I recall that Dad did try to plant sunflowers as a crop once or twice, but he didn’t make it an annual thing.

A common misconception is that sunflowers follow the sun across the sky every day.  While this is true for young, immature sunflowers, the fully mature plant will continue to face east throughout the day, as its head is too heavy and the stalk has become too inflexible to move.

Because the young plants follow a circadian rhythm, they will turn from east to west even on cloudy days.  They re-orient themselves overnight to the east to begin the process over every day.

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The plants are harvested for their seeds, of course, to be used not only for human consumption, but for birdseed as well.

Sunflower oil is also an economically important product of the sunflower.

Because I am enthralled to learn new, useless trivia, here is some I learned online about the sunflower, just in case you, too, may enjoy such trivial matters:

*The sunflower is the only flower with “flower” in its name.

*There are 67 species of sunflower and multiple varieties of each species.

*Sunflowers can be used to extract toxic ingredients from the soil, such as lead, arsenic and uranium.  They were used to help clean up the area after the Russian Chernobyl disaster.

*The earliest examples of domesticated sunflowers in the U.S. were found in Tennessee, and date to around 2300 B.C.

*Among Zuni people, the fresh or dried root is chewed by the medicine man before sucking venom from a snakebite and is ceremoniously applied via poultice to the bite.

*The sunflower is the national flower of Ukraine.

*Sunflowers were worshipped by the Incas because they viewed it as a symbol for the sun.

*Once the sunflower heads are empty, they can be converted into scrubbing pads for tough jobs.

*I may, or may not, have a wheat tattoo to honor Dad.  I may, or may not get a sunflower tattoo to honor Mom.  (That wasn’t from the web.)

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I like the sunflower because it reminds me of Mom.  Gail and Suzanne show it proudly as well.

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But I like it for other reasons, too.  I, too, live by the sunlight, and if I could, I would follow the sunlight every day.  Unlike Gail and Suzanne–who like any and all weather–cloudy days bring me down.  It reminds me of the sun; it is named the “sunflower” not only because it follows the sun, but because its face simply looks sunny.

I realize I am like the sunflower in that I like to follow the sun from east to west every day.  I get a certain high from taking in a beautiful sunrise from my porch.

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And an equal high from watching the sunset—this picture was taken just last night facing west from my driveway.

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We are extending an open invitation to anyone who would like to discover why Kansas is not fly-over country.  It is drive-through-and-around country, it is drive-here-and-discover country.

Kansas is our beautiful home, and the sunflower is our beautiful, iconic cover girl.  It will soon be past its splendid prime, but Kansas will stay beautiful in its own right throughout the year.

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Don’t just fly over.  If you do, you’ll miss not only the sunflowers, but the sunrises, the sunsets and everything beautiful in between.

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Mom’s tastes were simple.  The sunflower may be a simple weed indeed, but she knew that sometimes, simple is best.

KISS:  Keep It Simple, Sunflower.

 

 

 

 

SWHEAT GIRLS PART THREE: LETTING FREEDOM RING

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SWHEAT GIRLS PART THREE:  LETTING FREEDOM RING

I have featured this pair of amazing sisters in two previous posts after their annual visits to my home.  (Swheat Girls Part One and Two, July 2017 & July 2018).  They bring their families every Independence Day week from their homes in the Phoenix area.  I treasure their visits; we have maintained contact since 1984.  Tana and Amy began as the girls I babysat in the summers; now they are the women I am lucky to call my lifelong friends.  

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This year, they told me they used to spend the weekends sitting in their rooms on the farm, bored until I returned Monday morning.  They couldn’t understand why I felt I needed the weekend off.  That’s many miles bridged from the rough beginning I chronicled last year when I insulted their cat in our first ten minutes together.  After that introduction, they were set on running me off, just like they had with all the others.

Except they didn’t.  And I didn’t leave, either.  We made it through the bumpy beginning, and the sailing just gets smoother every year.

 

 

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My stomach muscles hurt—in a good way—from laughing so much last week.  If laughter is indeed good medicine, then I should be in perfect health.  And, if I should ever need to get more of this good medicine in the future, all I need is a big dose of this picture:

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The bugs were formidable, but we found a way to avoid them.  And, in their usual form, these two find a way around obstacles—simply sip your drink through the straw through the net.  They’ve always figured out a solution to whatever comes their way.

Those early days on the farm were revisited with reverie and stories, recalling their youthful demeanor,

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Which hasn’t changed much in all these years.

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We enjoyed all our usual activities:  puzzling

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Yard games,

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Cooking, baking and grilling—followed by overeating.

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We took a little trip to Tana’s college town,

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the same college their parents met at, and the same college that honors their grandfather–their mother’s father.

 

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We swam in our backyard redneck pool,

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and in our neighbor’s real-deal pool.

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A fireworks display was offered courtesy of my son and a friend,

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followed by Tana’s karaoke rendition of Kansas’s own Martina McBride singing “Independence Day” the morning after Independence Day.  The flyswatter was handy for obvious reasons, so it became her microphone.  She’s always good at improvising when the circumstances may not be perfect.  Her voice is that of another talented Kansas wheat farm girl.

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Being the swheat girls they are, they took a trip to their family farm to enjoy the harvest.

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As a joke, I offered this garage sale find to Amy; she wasted no time putting it to use.  She says it’s the greatest treasure I have ever given her, and she plans to hand it down to her children as a family heirloom one day.  I planned to use it in an art project, but clearly, it belongs with her. 

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Proof she is truly a swheat girl

This year, we added yoga to the mix.  They, too, enjoy a good yoga workout, and since my teacher lives just down the road, she agreed to come over on the morning of the Fourth for some porch yoga.  She led us from the corner of the porch; the rest of the yoga-goers wrapped around the back porch. 

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If a picture is indeed worth a thousand words, then these pictures should be worth many thousands of words, so I won’t write much more.  They tell the stories of the fun and laughter we shared last week.  Hopefully, I have made it quite clear that we felt free to exercise our independence this week, and throughout the other fifty-one as well. 

Tana and Amy have been constants for each other; they have no other siblings.  Through births and deaths, divorces and disappointments, they are sisters through thin and thick.   They know liberty because they earned it, and they honor it as the gift it is every day, not just on Independence Day.

I hope you find that well of liberty within, because it is a gift to be opened for each and every one of us, every day of the year.

Have fun, and laugh while you are doing it.  It truly is the best medicine.

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THE SUNFLOWER STATE

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THE SUNFLOWER STATE

Because one should never miss an opportunity to make lemonade out of lemons, I decided to celebrate our fine state when life handed me Kansas instead of Colorado.

Every Labor Day weekend since 2010, I have savored the Rocky Mountain majesty of Cripple Creek, Colorado.  Minus Suzanne last year, she and Gail have done the same.  This year, however, duty called Gail and Suzanne—and family festivities called as well.  It was not meant to be.

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A throwback picture from our Labor Day 2014 trip.

Soon, however, it will be meant to be.  And I will tell you about it in a future post—at least, what we want you to know about it.  We never tell all.

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Every Labor Day when I return to Kansas after savoring the natural beauty of Colorado, I return to savor one of the many natural beauties of Kansas:  sunflowers in full bloom.

As well as living up to its title as The Wheat State, Kansas is also known as The Sunflower State.  It is our state flower, and it is simply and timelessly beautiful.

Mom loved sunflowers.  I have always liked sunflowers, but in an effort to further a small part of her larger-than-life legacy, I grew to love them after she was gone.  I keep them in artificial form in my home throughout the year.

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And, I gather a bouquet of fresh-picked ones and bring them indoors every Labor Day weekend.

IMG_20180902_172507692.jpg I preach about them, too.  If you grew up in Kansas and were hammered with Kansas history every January 29th in grade school to observe Kansas’s birthday—we celebrate our statehood since its inception as a state in 1861—you’d better be able to tell me why I am wearing a gaudy sunflower pin every year on that date.

No excuses if you are a native.  Know your Kansas history, or get out of my way.

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Suzanne will confirm that I am a purveyor of useless, but (sometimes) interesting information, so I won’t disappoint her today.  I wanted to know more about sunflowers and why they are our state flower, and here is what I found:

*The sunflower was made the official state flower in 1903 after a lawmaker observed many people wearing them to identify themselves as Kansans.  George Morehouse is the one to thank for that.

*Less than a decade before that, it was declared a noxious weed, and other lawmakers unsuccessfully attempted to eradicate it.

*It was chosen as a state symbol to represent our frontier days, winding trails, pathless prairies, as well as our bright past and future.

*Sunflowers grow in the wild, in planned gardens, and as a crop.

*They can grow up to nine feet tall.

*Sunflower oil is a valuable resource from the plant as a crop, and the seeds are enjoyed as a snack food, as well as in breads and salads.

*True to their name, the cultivated sunflower  typically turns to face the sun, mostly before they are in full bloom.  Because I am a word nerd as well, I want you to know this is known as heliotropism.  Wild sunflowers face in all directions.

Our dad planted sunflowers for a few years, but he apparently deemed it not as successful as he had hoped.

In the wild, sunflowers grow in large bunches,

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small bunches, or they may grow in single plants.

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Any way they grow, they are simply beautiful.

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While we are on a roll here with important Kansas information, let me share more of The Sunflower State’s vital official details:

The Ornate Box Turtle is the state reptile, and just in time for this post, one made a guest appearance in my neighbor’s yard this morning.

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“Ad Astra Per Aspera” is our state motto.  “To The Stars Through Difficulty,” is the translation from Latin.  Along with the sunflower, it is featured on our state flag:

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We had many cottonwood trees on our farm, leaving me with warm memories of the soft cotton floating through the air in the summer time.  It is no surprise that this tree is our state tree.

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The Western Meadowlark is the state bird.  It is also the state bird of Nebraska and Wyoming.

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So there you have it.  You are all prepared to celebrate Kansas’ 158th birthday next January 29th.  You’re welcome.

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I have a love/hate/love relationship with Kansas, and love always wins.  I love that this state has been our lifelong home, with my exception of a semester of college on an exchange program in New Mexico, and a year–less one day–of suburban Philadelphia as a nanny.  Gail, Suzanne and I spent our first 18 years in the same farmhouse, and we treasure that heritage.  We grew up on a farm, learning the Midwestern farm work ethic, values and morals.  We weren’t exposed to crime or drugs, just rock-and-roll.

I hate the winters—now.  As kids, we enjoyed frequent afternoon-long sledding expeditions in the hilly pastures behind our farmhouse.  The snow came up to our waists at times, and the drifts could bury us if we weren’t careful.

We loved it, but we rarely get snow like that anymore in these parts.

Now, just when I think the interminable winter—without beautiful snow– is going to bleed my soul into complete and irreversible dehydration with its icy and windy gray-ness, the beautiful green leaves appear on the trees, and I know I have survived one more year.

I love the summer heat.  June, July and August are my three favorite things about Kansas.  I’m not even kidding.  Bring on the 100-degree plus temps.  I savor them.

Call me crazy.  Go ahead.  I know you want to.

Now that it is September, those three glorious attributes are behind me once again.  Even if the temperatures exceed 100 degrees in September—which they sometimes do, it’s not the same.  I know it’s time for fall to arrive, and I won’t be fooled.

And, to confirm that I am indeed crazy, I don’t even like fall.  Just bring on the freezing temperatures already, and get it over with.  Don’t jack around with these “beautiful” 80-degree days in October.  Give me sub-freezing weather.  I like the extremes.

But so does Suzanne, so if you call me crazy, you have to call her crazy, too. She loves the extreme temperatures.  Again, because I love trivial information, I want to enlighten you with this fact from weather.com:  among our 50 states, Kansas ranks 31st in temperature ranges.  A range of 161 degrees has been documented, all the way up to 121 degrees, and down to 40 below.  I would have guessed we would be closer to #1 than #50.   Hawaii is #1, ranging from an unexpected twelve degrees, up to 100 degrees, and Montana is #50, ranging from a balmy 117 degrees, down to minus 70.

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Log on here to get more (useless, but interesting ) information.

As much as it pains me to write this, I have to reiterate that both Gail and Suzanne love the Kansas wind (Weather Girls, January 28th).   I hate the wind. Detest it. Loathe it.  Am I making myself clear?

The name Kansas comes from the Native American Kansa tribe of the Sioux.  Ironically, it means people of the south wind.  Go figure.

One thing we all agree on without a doubt:  we love Kansas because (most of) our family is here.  We love being close to all of them.

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Kansas has a bad rap for being “fly-over” country; best observed from above at 30,000 feet-plus.  We know this is the impression, but we disagree.

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I picked this up last weekend on our getaway.  Along with several other stickers, I put it on my new computer.  Might as well laugh along with them, because the joke is on them.

Our sunsets offer unparalleled beauty.  We’ll put them up against any other state’s sunsets, even this one my family saw on the beach last month.

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Sorry, Florida.  I love you and your sunsets, but we’ve got you beat. 

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Any Kansas girl who has ever traveled out of state and let on that she was from Kansas has had to endure the worn-out and not-even-funny Dorothy jokes.  I fought that in New Mexico and Pennsylvania.  The joker always thinks they are the one who came up with it, and it is funny only to them.  I know several women named Dorothy who are actually from Kansas, and they have had more than their share, I’m sure.

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Greater than the summer heat and the splendid sunsets, I love Kansas for one simple reason:  it is home.  Home is in one’s heart, and Kansas is in ours.  And, just like Dorothy said, “There’s no place like home.”

 

A gift from Gail to me.  Its home is in a chair in Fort Kathleen, my favorite all-my-own space in my home (A Space of Her Own, October 15th).

 

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Suzanne and I spent the afternoon together today.  We longed to be together with Gail in Colorado, but it wasn’t meant to be.  So we turned the lemons into sunflowers.   Her shirt was a complete coincidence; no hidden messages to be inferred.  You can think what you like about my headwear.  

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DEDICATED TO MOM AND CARLY.  I KNOW THAT FOR THEM, HEAVEN IS FILLED WITH SUNFLOWERS.

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Thanks to my friend Gwenna Reich for this picture, the photographer extraordinaire.  

AFTER HARVEST

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AFTER HARVEST

Night and Day.  Black and White.  All or nothing.  Abundance and Lack.

Sometimes it is one extreme, often it is somewhere in between.  As an adolescent in the late 70’s/early 80’s, I was sensitive—overly sensitive, as I see now—to the whole abundance and lack thing.  In my young mind, it was simply one or the other.  Plenty or scarcity.  Usually never just enough-which is what we always had.

Looking back now, I see that it was always enough, and, seeing it with my adult eyes, I view it now as plenty.  But I didn’t see it then.

Like so many things in life, it is rarely black or white.  It is usually an undetermined shade of gray.

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I went to the farm last weekend to partake of the annual wheat harvest on my family farm.  My two farming brothers had just got harvest into full swing, and I was able make the trip on the day they began.   Gail and Suzanne were not able to join me, so I went solo.  I would have preferred to have their company, but this did not deter me from making the trip.  I have only missed one in my entire life, and I was living far away from The Wheat State that year.  Mom sent me a card with several heads of wheat in it, in her usual thoughtful style.  I wrote more about that last year in Swheat Girls (July 2nd), and I could go on about that and so much more surrounding harvest, but that much was already written, so I will bring you the new.

I arrived in the field in the mid –afternoon hours and found both brothers across the road from each other in their respective fields; in their respective behemoth harvesting machines—both of them red, of course.

I found Ryan making his rounds (squares?) on this side of the road, so I jumped in the combine for the required ride.

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It was dusty, dirty and windy, and just as last year, I loved it.  I got dirty, although not as dirty as I’d hoped, because it was overcast, and not sunny, not hot and still as it was last year.  I didn’t get as sweaty as I wanted to either, but I tried.  That is part of the experience, you know.  The sweat, the dirt, the wheat dust.  Bring it on—at least on to me. It’s not quite as fulfilling without it, but I took what I could get, just as every farmer does out of his wheatfield.

Suzanne and I getting dirty and dusty in last year’s wheat field.

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Last year’s wheat dust hung lazily in the air with no wind to scatter it.

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A ride to the elevator is in order; as it’s not a complete harvest trip without it.  My younger brother had a load ready, and we labored down the dusty dirt roads with the full semi-trailer behind.

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Waiting for our turn at the elevator.  The moisture sensor takes a sample on the truck in front of us, measuring the moisture content on each load.  This matters in the end, as too much moisture gets a big red mark on your wheat’s report card, followed by a dock in your payment.

The trip back to the field was faster, lighter and a bit more urgent, as the wheat was waiting.  Waiting to be cut, augered into the grain cart and then into the semi again for a repeat trip to the elevator.

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I got it all in within a matter of a few hours.  I was fulfilled.  The trip was quick, but I got the job done.  The next day, it rained.  My timing was perfect.  The rain was welcome, with more to come later that week.  Even though it interrupted harvest, it was welcomed because of the dry conditions.

So it is not yet after harvest on the farm; it is still during harvest, even with the interruption.

After harvest, in the sense I am writing about, comes not after the last load of wheat is cut and hauled.  It comes after the final reckoning, after the farmer’s balance sheet is tallied to see where on the abundance/lack spectrum the numbers fell.  The numbers are black and white, and the results can differ from the expectations by as much as night to day; all or nothing.

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In the time period from the late 1970’s to the mid 1980’s, the American farm economy was in crisis.  The interest rates were at record highs, while the prices for grain were at record lows due to record production.

I remember Dad saying “The farmer is the only businessman who doesn’t get to set his own prices for his products.”  And, like most everything else Dad spoke, was so true.

The 1980 grain embargo against the Soviet Union brought exports to a record low, while farm debt for land and equipment rose to a record high.  Many farmers were unable to make their payments, so their farms were foreclosed upon, including several in our small farming community.  The auction block was the formidable potential enemy for so many Midwestern farmers during this time.

I know most farmers were worried about their own finances during this time, including our Dad.  I could hear it in the things he said, and as a sensitive kid, I could feel it, too.  He was worried, and so was I.

In the end, our farm survived.  It still does.

And so does my tendency to feel a sense of lack.  Those impressions made in childhood die hard.   In the face of my own relative prosperity now, my relative abundance compared to that of my childhood, the darkness of lack still lingers sometimes, still haunts me with thoughts of what if it’s not enough?

I know now I have power over that darkness, like so many others I have conquered.  Realizing our own strength is always the first step.

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If I wanted an extra material something as a child, something that was not a necessity or a need such as an extra pair of shoes, or perhaps a Barbie doll, I would bring that request to my parents.    If it was close to harvest, my answer from them would always be “We’ll see after harvest.”  After harvest –in my young mind–became code for it will either be abundance or lack, so we will see which one it is.  Black or white.  All or nothing.  Night or day.

Gail and Suzanne recall the same answer.  We all heard the same answer:  “After harvest.”

At least, that’s what the girls in our family heard.

The girls were inside during harvest, primarily preparing the many elaborate meals for the harvesters.  Dad and our brothers were the farmers, and they worked morning to dark—and as late into the night as the wheat straw allowed.  It becomes tough as night falls, and harvesting is no longer possible.

Suzanne and I reminisced yesterday about all three of us helping Mom prepare a full-on feast to be taken to the field.  A feast no different than the ones she normally cooked and served in the kitchen around our large table of nine.  A hot meat-and-potatoes meal complete with bread—sometimes homemade—and vegetables, and likely a dessert.  We prepared it as usual, then loaded it up and took it to the field.  The tailgate of the pickup was the dining table, and we raced to get to one of the two wheel hubs in the box to sit on, as these were prime seats.   We savored it with them as they took a short break, then came home to clean up the pots, pans and plates, and get ready to do it all over again.

In the spirit of Waste Not, Want Not (January 14th), Gail recalled that we saved our sugar sacks, as they were heavier, and somewhat insulated.  Dad would pack his only thermos full of coffee when he took off for the field, and we would pack a refill of coffee in a recycled mayonnaise jar, tucked inside of the sugar sack to keep it warm.   In another sugar sack, we packed another recycled mayonnaise jar of cold water to refill his water jug.  Small coolers were essentially non-existent, as were insulated bottles that are everywhere now.

Gail reports she still saves her sugar sacks.  Mine go in the recycling crate.  If you recall from The Baker, The Long-John Maker–and Suzanne (December 3rd), Suzanne doesn’t bake, so I don’t think she even purchases sugar by the bag.

These honorable duties were our jobs as girls; the boys helped Dad.

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One of our brothers made a surprise visit to our small city for dinner last night.  He and his wife decided to make the 80 mile trip from Wichita to have dinner with Suzanne and me.  We welcomed the gathering, as usual.  Good thing he treated us, because after dinner, while chatting at Suzanne’s place, the truth came out:

We asked him about his memories of the “after harvest” determination, and apparently, there was a double standard.  His memory was that during harvest, not after, Dad would discuss the “harvest wages” with the boys.   This apparently meant there would most certainly be some small, extra token of appreciation for their efforts.  David’s only recollection of what any of those annual tokens were was a new fishing pole.

If you know our family, you can imagine the good-natured banter that took place at that point.  A strong sense of humor prevailed between us three siblings, as it typically does between all of us.  We know, just as we always did, that fairness and equity among their seven children was the rule.

 

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David lived in our small city for a time, and the iconic pizza restaurant was a hit for us all .

We can choose to live with a mindset of abundance, or we can choose to believe in scarcity and lack.  We get to decide.  It doesn’t matter what your house or your car or your bank account look like, the truth resides in your mind.  It is a choice.

And, having chosen to believe in both extremes at various points in my life, I can tell you that choosing a mindset of abundance is always the best choice.

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May all your harvests be abundant, and never stop separating the wheat from the chaff.  

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My hometown lost another legend last week.  The mother of a dear friend passed away after a long and blessed life of 84 years.  She mothered six children, one of whom passed before her.

She was a wife and mother, an artist, a master gardener, a knowledgeable and compassionate nurse who was called upon to be the small-town doctor at times.  She leaves a legend behind of all these things, which I will always remember her for.

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Tracy and her dear Mother Mary.

I remember her for other things, too.  She always laughed and smiled, no matter what her circumstances.  She laughed through sadness and illness, which were no strangers to her.  I lived with Tracy—one of her four daughters—in college, and she came to our college town for extended cancer treatment.  She stayed with us during this time, witnessing me coming in too late, even for a college girl.  She laughed at this the next morning, in her usual style.  I got to know her on a new and deeper level, now more as an adult than a child, which had been my relationship with her before college.

May her smile and laughter live in our memories forever.

 

 

 

 

GIVE THANKS

 

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THANK YOU

“If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is ‘thank you,’ that will be enough.”    Meister Eckhart

Our country celebrated my favorite holiday last week.  I celebrated with my husband’s family on Thursday, and my family on Saturday.  I try to celebrate it alone every day. I try to find small and large things to be grateful for.  Some days, I know I don’t try hard enough.  When I give it my best, I get the best in return.

I find more peace.  More joy.  More awareness of so many more things I need to be grateful for.  More awareness of how rich life can be when I focus on the good.

I am now grateful for things that used to drag me down.  Like the seemingly endless stretch of Interstate 70 that leads to Gail’s house:

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I drove this hundred mile stretch several hundred times on my way from my current small city to an even smaller city during my graduate school days:

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If I try just a little harder, I can find so many beautiful sights along the way to be thankful for.  Out of respect for Gail and Suzanne’s love of the wind,  I have come to appreciate–only a little more– the reason why Kansas has so many of these:

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An hour past my alma mater town, this gem on the plains is the hometown of both of my in-laws.  They were married in this church that stands as a tall beacon on the prairie skyline, and all four of my husband’s grandparents were laid to rest behind the church.  A dear friend’s parents are buried there as well.   In an unlikely coincidence, my mom’s father was born there at home, but didn’t live there long as a child.

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As I age, I am more thankful that I was born and raised a Kansas farm girl.  While my family trusted only the red tractors, combines and other machinery, the green ones are fixtures on the Kansas plains.  My husband’s brother-in-law recently retired from a long and storied career with the green tractor company, so I have to respect them too.  Only if you were raised on a farm would you understand the ongoing debate/argument over which tractor is better:  red or green?  Either one will adequately harvest the current corn crop, which, in the last 10 years, is becoming a bigger cash crop in Kansas.

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So, just when I think I can no longer tolerate the monotony of the flat western Kansas landscape, the road to Gail’s house takes a surprise twist:  hills!

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Then, about ten minutes later, we have arrived.  Over the plains and through the hills, to Gail’s house we go.24058991_1925613150786933_3385765566210426815_n[1]

Gail and Suzanne are busy cooking; Suzanne and her family arrived last night.

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Anyone in the kitchen is expected to lend a hand.

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This is Gail’s time to shine, it is the pinnacle of the year–in family terms–for her.  I think that’s why it’s my favorite too.  Three of our four brothers, their wives and most of their offspring were there as well.   If Gail is in charge, it’s gonna be good.

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And it was.

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Our new tradition is to take a picture in Camp Gail, just like we did last year.

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After duplicating that picture, we decided to try to duplicate this one, with a slight modification to reflect the fact that we are all fifteen years older than when this picture was taken:

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It didn’t turn out so well:

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Still, we tried.  And we will keep on trying to have all the fun we possibly can.   I am so thankful for that.

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I have long been thankful for Kansas sunsets, perhaps the most recognized natural wonder of The Wheat State.

Happy Thanksgiving every day from the three Kansas  wheat farm girls of the Sister Lode.